Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 13

Political intrigue exists on both sides in Grozny

by Igor Rotar

The Chechen crisis has shifted into a new phase. The catalystsfor this shift were the tragic events in Budennovsk, and the negotiationsbetween representatives of Moscow and those of Dzhokhar Dudayevwhich followed these events. Moscow hopes that these negotiationswill finally put an end to the already drawn-out Chechen conflict. But regardless of what agreements may be reached, these hopesfor a rapid stabilization of the situation in Chechnya remainjust as illusory as ever.

"Here One Russia Fights With Another"

Salambek Khadzhiyev, the prime minister of the Moscow-created"Government of National Rebirth of the Chechen Republic,"told me at the beginning of our conversation last week that inChechnya, "Russia is fighting with Russia, and Chechnya iskilling Chechnya." The fate of Khadzhiyev is truly tragic. The former USSR oil minister and a world-class chemist, ProfessorKhadzhiyev was sincerely convinced that his willingness to becomethe premier in a Moscow-backed Chechen government would help stabilizethe situation in his homeland. Alas, these hopes proved to bewithout any foundation. "The Russian forces have begun tobehave like marauders on the territory they have occupied. Thefts,arrests and even the murder of innocent civilians are taking placeeverywhere. All of my protests to the Center have not had anyeffect," Khadzhiyev said.

"Only people without any understanding of the situationcan accuse us of inviting the Russian forces into Chechnya. ForMoscow, we are simply too small to take into consideration. Ihave become convinced that what is taking place in Chechnya isnot a war between Russian soldiers and Dudayev’s people, but rathera struggle between two opposing forces inside Russia itself. The chief of the Chechen delegation, Usman Imayev (who spent sometime in a Moscow jail last year and then was inexplicably released–I.R.)constantly telephones important people in Moscow. And severalmembers of the Russian delegation have even said to me: ‘It turnsout that you and we are part of the same administration!’"

It is instructive that the deputy chief of the Russian delegation,Arkady Volsky, shares Khadzhiyev’s view: "Definite forcesinside Russia openly attempt to break off the delegations, andmembers of our delegation have never before experienced such strongpressure from our own government. Many commercial structures areactive in this regard. Fifteen Russian commercial banks, manyof them with questionable reputations, are involved in the reconstructionof Chechnya, something that Moscow says it will spend some fivetrillion rubles on. The end of the war would make it more difficultfor some highly placed officials to conceal the fact that theyare filling their pockets with this wealth." According toVolsky, each of the members of the Russian delegation is fulfillingthe orders of a particular political section of the politicalspectrum in Moscow. And that does not bode well for a favorableoutcome in the talks. "Whenever there is a break in thetalks, each member of the Russian delegation hurries to telephonehis patron in Moscow," Volsky says.

Volsky openly declared to me that "the head of the Dudayevdelegation, Usman Imayev, regularly makes mysterious telephonecalls. From the OSCE building in Grozny, it is possible to telephoneParis, London, New York or Moscow, but it is not possible to reachthe mountain villages where Dudayev and his people are located. I very much doubt that Imayev is telephoning Europe or America,and so the place he is calling is thus obvious. Earlier, I thoughtthat the rumors that Imayev was an agent of the FSB were simplya canard but now I think I may have been deceiving myself."

Volsky would not name the individuals inside Moscow’s elite whoare interested in the continuation of the war, but he did saythat "the dividing line in Moscow’s policy on Chechnya fallsbetween Viktor Chernomyrdin and certain political figures in theimmediate entourage of the president." But if Volsky isunwilling to name names just now, it is not difficult to divinewho they in fact are. The personal representative of Boris Yeltsinin the Chechen Republic is Russia’s first deputy premier, OlegSoskovets, who is well know for his close contacts with the president’seminence gris, Aleksandr Korzhakov. All the funds for the restorationof Chechnya pass through the hands of Soskovets. And even Volskyis prepared to say that certain forces are interested in takingsome of this money for themselves.

And consequently one can conclude that at the Grozny talks, themain problem for Moscow is not finding a compromise with Dudayev,but rather the struggle among various political forces of Russia,each of which has its own view on how the Chechen crisis shouldbe resolved. "In essence," Volsky says, "the situationwill become clear relatively quickly. Either we will sign a jointagreement with the Chechen side on political issues, or it willbe obvious that the ‘party of war’ on both sides of the barricadeshas won a victory."

An Armistice is Signed but the War Continues

However even if an agreement is signed, this will hardlyalter the situation in any radical way. "The party of war"has not ended its demand for a "war to a victorious conclusion." It is instructive that the agreement on military questions whichhas been signed is not being fulfilled in all its aspects. Accordingto this agreement, the sides are to cease military operationsand move toward disarmament. This process is to begin in thesouthern mountain regions where Dudayev’s forces are concentrated.And Russian forces are to leave this region as soon as the Dudayevpeople have been disarmed. But in reality, this has not happenedand thus there is neither an armistice nor a peace. In the lastweek alone, according to official statistics, 11 Russian servicemenwere killed and 25 wounded.

The local population seems to be able to recognize a journaliston sight, and whenever I went into Grozny, I was surrounded byChechens who wanted to tell me about the violations in their villages. I soon realized that I would need to visit all the villages ofChechnya in order to identify all the violations of the trucewhich the Chechens in Grozny told me about.

"Of course, the armistice is being violated," SalambekKhadzhiyev told me without blinking. "The Russian forcescontinue to shell not only our positions, but even peaceful villages,"said Usman Imayev.

An Honorable Surrender?

Thus, even if an agreement on political questions is achieved,that will not end, but may even lead to an increase in militaryactions between the two sides. Members of the Russian delegationtold me that they viewed any agreement on political questionssimply as a device to allow the Chechens to make an "honorablesurrender" to Moscow. In reality, the Dudayev delegationin principle already agrees with the Russian formulation that"the status of Chechnya after the elections will be definedon the basis of the Russian and New Chechen constitutions withinthe framework of the Federation Treaty." That is, even ifthe new parliament declares independence, the primacy of Russianlaws over local ones will not allow the Chechens the right toleave.

According to members of the Russian delegation, this formulationwill allow the Dudayevites to "save face." Therefore,the Chechens insist on the preservation and recognition of the"current juridical status" of Chechnya–that is, itsindependence–until the Chechen elections. "At the veryleast," Usman Imayev said to the Russian delegation, "recognizeour independence, even if only for two months!"

According to Arkady Volsky, the chief danger for the Dudayevdelegation is the possibility that they will be accused of treasonby other Chechens and especially by Chechen military commanders. "They can simply crush us!" Usman Imayev complainedto the members of the Russian delegation. As a result, the personalrelations of the members of the Dudayev delegation are also verytense. Particularly complex are the relations between Dudayev’srepresentative and Usman Imayev: the former accuses the latterof unnecessary concessions to the Russian side. One time, thesetensions rose to such a pitch that the two sides exchanged blows.

Dudayev himself has begun to manifest a certain dissatisfactionwith Imayev’s position. Thus, he issued a decree in which hesaid that the agreement with Moscow will be genuine only if allthe members of the Chechen delegation sign it. Extremely indicativetoo was the appearance of Dudayev on underground Chechen televisionJuly 22 when the former Soviet general dismissed the current talksas a waste of time. "We will agree only to complete independence,"Dudayev said.

On the other hand, however, only with significant qualificationscan one call the Chechen delegation at the talks Dudayevite. Accordingto members of the Russian delegation, the Chechen president doesnot have real power, not even in those locations which the Russianarmy has not yet occupied. Volsky said that when he met Dudayev,he felt that he was meeting someone who was taking drugs or hadfor some other reason lost his sense of reality. But even ifthis is the case, the members of the Dudayev delegation are notyet prepared to break with their own president. "Volskyhas met with Dudayev, and he understands now what we have to dealwith! What do you want us to do?" Aslan Maskhadov, the chiefof the Chechen armed forces, told the Russian delegation.

In addition to the opinion of Dudayev, the members of the delegationhave to take into consideration the opinions of the independentminded field commanders, many of whom have openly expressed theirdissatisfaction with the first Chechen president. And after Dudayevmet with Volsky, some 700 Chechen fighters declared that theywere no longer willing to subject themselves to the orders ofsomeone who was conspiring with the Russians.

At the present time, these Chechen field commanders are convincedthat the present negotiations must end with the withdrawal ofRussian forces from Chechnya and Moscow’s recognition of Chechnyaas an independent state. "Until that happens, we will notlay down our arms!" one of them told me.

Toward a Partisan War?

It is not difficult to imagine how such people will reactwhen they find out what the actual agreement is likely to be. The members of the delegation will undoubtedly be counted "enemiesof the people" and even Dudayev, who agreed to the talksand appointed Imayev as the head of the delegation, is likelyto lose even the control and influence he now possesses. "Today,many field commanders are convinced that precisely Dudayev isto blame for leading Chechnya to defeat and that the real herowho forced Russia to agree to talks is Shamil Basayev," ArkadyVolsky told me.

In the event of such a split in the Chechen forces, the war inChechnya will become ever more chaotic and unpredictable: suchsmall and uncontrolled detachments will be far more dangerousto Moscow than are the resistance forces which earlier had beenunder a single command, because only such a command could conducttalks. Thus, according to some of those involved, Moscow wouldhave been willing to destroy Dudayev already, but feared the anarchythat his death might have provoked.

We should also remember in this connection as well the threatof Shamil Basayev to resume terrorist attacks if the negotiationsdo not give the Chechens what they want. This time, "thecommander of the diversion-intelligence battalion" said hewould blow up atomic power stations in Moscow. Given what heachieved in Budennovsk, no one can ignore this threat. Even agroup of Moscow journalists from the television program "Vzglyad"was able to penetrate a Russian atomic power plant, film theirbreak in, and get away without being stopped.

For the present, the situation in Chechnya would not even bestabilized by the withdrawal of Russian troops. Indeed, sucha withdrawal might lead to an open revolt by one or more of thefield commanders, and to a repetition of the "Afghan variant"which some observers have feared. According to this scenario,various commanders would seek to find out which of them had donemore for the victory over the "Russian occupiers." And the blood feud traditions of the region also mean that itwill have little peace in the coming months. A death sentencecertainly hangs over all Chechens who in any way cooperated withthe Russians and indeed over all of the republic’s northern regionswhose populations generally supported the Russian intervention.

Consequently, the war is likely to continue regardless of whetheran agreement is signed or not. To be sure, one should not forgetthat the present situation of the Dudayev forces is very bad. Vladimir Zorin, the deputy chief of the Territorial Administrationof the Russian Federation in the Chechen Republic, told me thatat the present time, Dudayev’s people control about 5 percentof the territory and 5 percent of the population of the republic.And having been on both sides of the battle lines in Chechnya,I personally can attest that the resistance groups now are runningshort, not only of ammunition but of basic food as well. Fightersin Bamut, for example, had only tea and crude pancakes for breakfast. Such a situation reflects the fact that the Dudayev forces havebeen driven into the mountains and have been cut off from theworld.

It is obvious that the Dudayev forces cannot go over to the attack,but it is equally certain that the Russian forces will not beable to take complete control of the entire territory of the republic. And it will be even more difficult to find and destroy the undergroundChechen groups which exist in every Chechen city and town. Thus,the Dudayev forces will begin a partisan war, and as the experienceof Afghanistan, Israel, Ulster, and Algeria show, it is almostimpossible for the forces of the center to defeat such opponents.
Igor Rotar is a correspondent for Izvestiya.